Sunday, December 24, 2006

Marathon Drive

I don't know what a keystone is, but surely it's something super-long and really annoying.

Apologies to my readers who live in the lovely state of Pennsylvania, but the Keystone State is my frequent adversary. When I lived in Alexandria, Virginia, and went to college in Yellow Springs, Ohio, I used to say that Pennsylvania was between me and everywhere that I wanted to go.

I've hit a deer in Pennsylvania, lost a radiator in Pennsylvania, and broken down there more times than I can remember. One of my old Volvos caught on fire there (not as awful as it sounds as this was sometimes a part of getting it started). I've spent too many hours in the Breezewood Greyhound station the times that I did not have a car.

I blissfully skirted around Pennsylvania for the years when I was holiday-commuting between NYC/JC and Alexandria. That was a great commute. I could hop a Peter Pan (or later Chinatown) bus and be there in four hours for $15 and a Metro fare.

I left Avenue A Friday at 11 a.m. and headed for the PATH train to JC, where I got Henry the Ford out of his house. (Perhaps it says something that I own free and clear title to my car's house but nothing now for myself.) I didn't get out of JC until 1 after I attempted to go to the post office to send a book I'd sold on Amazon. I gave up after 20 minutes of standing in an unmoving line and ran back to my car. Street cleaning started at 1 and I didn't want another boot.

Henry and I drove west on I-78 to the NJ/PA border. We cruised across the toll bridge on my E-Z Pass and shortly after that, the rain started. Traffic slowed. And then slowed more.

For hours, we'd crawl past accidents and slowly made headway against the rain. Only the trucks were going fast, and when they did, they'd throw up a spray as they passed and for 15 seconds or so, all I could see were the tail lights in front of me.

The drive was dreadful. At Chambersburg, I called my mother.

"This isn't safe. Henry and I should not be out in this with all these trucks. I can't see anything. What does the weather look like?"

Mom checked a satellite report online. "There's a break in the clouds in West Virginia. And aren't you the one who once drove home from Ohio in an ice storm?"

"I was younger and stupider then."

"Well, go to a hotel if it's too bad. Take a lot of breaks."

I bought a large coffee and dug out the old reading/driving glasses I hadn't worn in years. Henry the Ford got me safely to Niagara Falls during a snowstorm with an Australian behind the wheel. He is a sturdy, reliable car. We'll be okay.

This and the hope of a break in the rain got me through Maryland to West Virginia. But there was no break. And when I crossed the Virginia state line, it was raining even harder. I turned up my iPod and squinted, trying to ignore the onslaught of trucks tearing down I-81.

I'd traded in my old iPod for a Fifth Generation one a few weeks ago. I now regretted it. I've been adhering to the Star Trek movie iPod model--going in for every odd number--but Captain-Kirk-theory has let me down with the Fifth. I loaded everything on, but it skips over most songs, and from reading message boards, I can tell you that I am not alone and there are some hopping-mad iPod owners out there. Count me among them. It's supposed to plug and play. I'm not supposed to have to troubleshoot the damn thing out of the box.

On this long drive, my Fifth Generation iPod skipped over everything but Rebecka Tornqvist and Jens Lekman. By the time I'd gotten to Maryland, I'd hated all things Swedish, even the man who invented the adjustable wrench. I switched off the iPod near Winchester and tuned in classic rock. Until I saw, through the blurry distorted windshield, a billboard for a Best Western.

Free wi-fi! I'll rest in the parking lot and read the email that's accumulated over the last 8.5 hours.

As I sat, scrolling through my in-box, it occurred to me that the Best Western was good for more than just signal swiping.

"Hotel. Sleep. No more rain. No trucks."

I turned off the iBook and checked in. I'd finish the drive to my mother's in the morning sun.


Marie Javins said...

The Australian behind the wheel comment is not a reflection on the driving abilities of Australians, but on the fact that Australia is a desert country not known for its snowstorms.

Matt Hollingsworth said...

Stay safe and have a great holiday! Great blog you've got here.

Marie Javins said...

Thanks. Enjoy your first Croatian Christmas.

Marie Javins said...

And I finally got the iPod working. It's just... different than the earlier models. I had to read up on it.

Anonymous said...

Oh, no! You gotta RTFM? Ah, I hate those things anyway. As you probably know, since I can't shut up about it.

However: as to keystones. When you build an arch, there's one odd-shaped stone right at the top. See those Pennsylvania Turnpike signs? That's the shape. The metaphor is that without the keystone the whole structure falls down, but the keystone locks it into safety.

Anyway, merry Christmas from the windswept plains of Prussia, where it's not only not snowing, but not all that cold, either.

Marie Javins said...

The manual was actually too dumbed-down for the problem I was having, so I had to go to the Apple Support Forums, where a support document walked me through a few things. The iPod is even more plug-and-play oriented than in the past, so you have to work a little harder to get under the hood, that's all. I know you hate mp3 players anyway, but I for one despise carrying extra things (like CDs and cassettes), so to have everything on one slim calculator-sized hard drive is great for me. And I play it through the car radio on the iRock (the iTrip having been too staticky for me) and all is well.

I never use it at home and never use it on public transport though. I am disconcerted by not being able to hear things. When I sold my last iPod, the eBay buyer was stunned by what great shape it was in. That's because I used the headphones maybe twice, and had the unit in a padded case every time I used it.

Marie Javins said...

And now I'm on my way back, again in the rain. So again, in a hotel two hours into the trip. And Waffle House is open on Christmas, so I even get dinner. Though Sheetz is open too and they may have salad or something. Christmas turkey may have been enough gorging for one day.

Back to Alphabet City tomorrow.